RENEWED VOWS
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.

 

Mitski - "Your Best American Girl". People tell you, when you're young, that music moves in cycles. They say that your favourite new band sounds like their favourite old band; they say it's retro, re-heated, re-hashed. You say no. You say no this is a bit like that shitty dusty old band but mostly it's different; this is fresh and utterly, absolutely alive. Your favourite new band is the most important thing in the world and it is like a jewel hidden in the cabinet of your chest, something no one who is older can fully understand. You say this with absolute certainty, staring them straightly, darkly, in the eyes. Your gaze does not waver. It doesn't drop. You know it. This is young and whole and wholly mine.

But then of course you yourself get older. After ten years of listening, fifteen, twenty, you have the same straight, dark gaze. You have the same seriousness of listening, you hope you do. Yet there are more lines around your eyes. A skepticism has set in, or a weariness. You have heard so much music, so much whole and transformative music; so much music has meant so much to you; and now the cycles have come round and round and there are things that sound so much like the things you discovered at the beginning, and the feeling you have is that this music is redundant. That it is attempting something that others already attempted. (It's attempting something that others already attempted and, perhaps, others already solved.)

Perhaps you say so to the kids. You tell them their favourite new band sounds like your favourite old band. You say it's re-heated. And they stare at you with their dark young eyes.

Because you're wrong.

You're not mistaken but you're wrong. Because listening to music should not be a conversation about knowledge, a conversation about taste. It should not be a conversation about evaluating a song's antecedents. Those conversations run into dead-ends: stubbornness, defensiveness, distrust of elders, contempt for youth. Fundamentally they run into the dead-end of each of our accumulated sets of experiences, unique and incomprehensible. "Knowledge" starts with self-knowledge, "taste" is secret, incontestable.

Instead, we should come to these conversations the same way we come to weddings.

We sit and listen. With flowers and booze, manners, affection, our gladdest garments. Our friends tell us about their love and we try to let that love light and fill the space. We do not question it; we do not compare it; we do not challenge it against the other loves we have known or witnessed. While the wedding lasts, until the last toes leaves the dance floor, we do everything we can to feel each other's happiness.

Everything new is also old. In youth we should try harder to understand the way we are linked by our loves to all the songs and singers and listeners that came before, the string of dark straight looks that leads back through yesterday to long ago. In older years, with that flimsy experience, we should be humble enough to learn that the shadings of a new thing matter: that the smallest aspects of its reinvention can amount to transformation. It matters that a synthesizer is playing this part; or it matters that the line is about an email, not a letter; or it matters that a woman is singing these lines. It matters that a young person is singing these lines, a young person more like you.

Mitski's "Your Best American Girl" is a wondrous song. It sounds like music I have heard before and it is also a transformation. Loving and rending, wisely demanding, rock'n'roll with its furnace in the grass. Measured syllables, guitars as loud as bagpipes, the flash of a ring as it's thrown through the air.

[buy]

Posted by Sean at March 15, 2016 11:08 AM
Comments

What a hopeful defense, Sean! Thank you for writing it.

Posted by blayze at March 15, 2016 3:03 PM

Perfection. Thank you for this.

Posted by Karin S at March 16, 2016 1:50 PM

Great statement for present-positive music instead of present-negative nostalgia. The wedding-analogy made me think of the video for the Johan Heltne song from a few weeks back. So thanks!

Posted by Arnulf at March 16, 2016 5:47 PM

Great song. Great sentiment.

Posted by Casimir at March 18, 2016 12:21 PM

Not my kind of song, but that’s a beautifully written, thoughtful text.

Posted by RPS at March 20, 2016 11:21 PM

Lovely words, especially on weddings! Feeling the 'arriving in a new city' epicness of the song too.

Posted by Milo at March 25, 2016 8:15 AM

Brilliant... I think it applies in all conversations on music (not just with the youth)... especially this part "we do not challenge it against the other loves we have known or witnessed."

Posted by amos at April 17, 2016 6:06 AM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

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PAST AUTHORS
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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